What a fantastic event from YouthAction4ClimateGsy yesterday! Young people from schools across the island gathered in the Grammar School Hall at half twelve, ready to make their concerns about climate change heard, loud and clear.
The event was thoughtful and focused. It began with an introduction from co-organiser James Cleal, putting it in the context of the “apocalyptic predictions” of the IPCC Report on Global Warming, which promises a world of fire, flood and starvation within our lifetimes if we don’t take radical action on climate change; and linking Guernsey’s event with the impressive worldwide youth strikes for climate change. It moved on quickly to an expert panel – Andy Sloan, Julia Henny and Tina Norman-Ross, together with Deputies Barry Brehaut and Lindsay de Sausmarez for Environment & Infrastructure, and Deputies Al Brouard and Jane Stephens for Policy & Resources. Young campaigners from across the schools had submitted questions beforehand, which the panel discussed in detail – from waste reduction and plastic bag bans, to the impact of climate change on biodiversity and on socioeconomic justice.
After the panel, everyone present made a climate change pledge – the wall at the back of the Hall quickly filling up with small yellow promises to help make big green changes. Significantly, a pledge was also made by the politicians: to recognise and respond seriously to the impact of climate change, as demanded by our island’s young people and young people around the world. The challenge that YouthAction4ClimateGsy left us with was to make Guernsey carbon-neutral by 2030 – a challenge that would demand more substantial action from Guernsey, as a government and as a community, than any we have seen before.
So much credit is due to the young people who organised yesterday’s event. It was smoothly and professionally run. It was challenging without being confrontational – it made use of the fact that Guernsey’s politicians are just an email or a phone call away, to engage with us and hold us to account. It had a clear message, and its message was received by those with the power to do something about it, including the States’ most powerful Committee, Policy & Resources. And credit to the school, who were willing to support their young activists to pursue a cause that mattered to them, and use their voices well, in a democratic way – what a great preparation for the future, and a fantastic way to show how adolescents can be responsible leaders.
So – what next?
If you were there as a campaigner yesterday, how do you keep the movement going? Your event got everyone talking, but you wouldn’t believe how quickly people forget, even on a big issue like this! As one of the people responsible for delivering the changes you want, here are 10 quick thoughts from me on how you can usefully continue to hold us to account:
10 Know What’s Going On in the States (of Guernsey)
You were told yesterday about two big reports that are coming up this year: Guernsey’s Energy Policy, and the next stage of the Policy & Resource Plan. In both these reports, the States will have the opportunity to commit to making Guernsey carbon-neutral by 2030, and taking other steps to tackle climate change locally. Also, in the Budget in November, the States will be able to allocate money to make it happen.
Do you know when those will be published? If not, nominate someone to keep an eye on gov.gg/billets, where all States’ documents are published – or nominate someone to write to a friendly Deputy, and ask that Deputy to let them know. Read the documents. Know what’s being suggested. If it doesn’t go far enough for you, write to States Members and let them know. Suggest better alternatives. Ask your teachers to let you out of school, so you can show up on the day of the debate with posters and banners; so that you can sit in the gallery while States Members talk, and remind us with your presence that you’re going to inherit the future we shape.
9 Use the News
Put together a team to monitor the news – maybe one person for each day of the week. Keep an eye on the local news, and on international headlines. Use the media, but also go directly to sources that interest you – maybe the website of the States, the IPCC or the UN Environment Programme. If a business or a school, or the States or a parish, does something positive locally, write and thank them – if they do something negative, challenge them: ask why, suggest alternatives.
If the IPCC publishes a new report, or headlines reveal a new climate-related disaster somewhere in the world, make sure people know about it – share it on social media, put together your own press release explaining why it matters locally, send it to States Members. News articles help to give a fresh focus to an ongoing campaign – use them to your advantage.
8 Keep Getting Together
There was so much energy in the room yesterday, it was buzzing. That was all of you coming together to do something bigger than yourselves; something that matters way beyond your little corner of the globe. You inspired each other. Keep doing that. There is no substitute for face-to-face contact, and the ideas and energy that come from talking together.
You have to plan it in to make it happen. Maybe organise a get-together once every two months. It needs a focus – watch a film or a TED talk together, and discuss it afterwards. Or have a low-carbon potluck – get everyone to bring a dish to share, and explain why it’s environmentally friendly: maybe it’s locally produced? Vegetarian? Organic? Sharing a meal is a great way to come together; even better when you can build it around your values.
Do this as a group, or on your own. In between the big meetings and get-togethers, keep your cause alive by writing to the people who have the power to make a difference. It could be States Members; it could also be retailers and businesses, who you want to challenge to do something different – maybe to stop bringing so much packaging on-island; maybe to change the way they manufacture clothes or cosmetics; maybe to sell more local and seasonal produce. Be clear what your message is – what you’re asking people to do, and why. Maybe pick an issue every month between yourselves, and focus on tackling that.
6 Go Digital
In your personal lives, you’ll be far better at this than I am. I’m not going to try and teach you to suck eggs. But learn to use the digital world to keep a campaign going. Use the social media that works best for you to connect with more people of your own age group. Remember that people of my generation and older are most likely to be on Twitter and Facebook, and build your campaign there too. You don’t have to create lots of new content – share good stuff (but remember to fact-check it first!) and tag in the people you want to reach. Again, maybe put together a team to keep your social media alive – it can become a massive and absorbing job for one person, and that’s just not healthy. And have a moderating policy for any spaces you create online (mine’s at the bottom here) – you don’t have to tolerate people being rude and cruel in your online space, just as you wouldn’t in your sitting room.
5 Live Your Values
You made some great pledges yesterday to help do your bit to tackle climate change. And you were challenged by some of the speakers – like Deputy Jane Stephens, who encouraged you to cut down on the clothes you buy and get more life out of the ones you already have. Think about the way your choices – what you buy, what you eat, how you travel, what you throw away – affect the environment. Research their impact. Try to make better ones.
Don’t get overwhelmed. None of us is going to save the world in one lifetime. You don’t have to stop everything that makes life worth living, just to stay alive; and you don’t have to beat yourself up if you fall short of your own standards from time to time. We all do it, and it’s okay: we’re only human. Be kind to yourself and each other. But if all of you make a conscious choice to live more environmentally, the collective impact will be massive.
4 Get Your Family on Board
If you can do it, try to bring your family with you. Don’t preach at them, that’s never going to work! But take the time to explain why you’re taking action, and what you’re doing. Ask them to give you moral support – for example, could you say: “I’m trying to go vegetarian, but I’m really going to miss meat. Could we maybe do Meat-Free Mondays as a family / have one meat-free day a week, so I’m not doing this alone?”
If you’re leading a climate change initiative at school, why not ask your parents to do the same at work? Imagine if the walls of every workplace in the island had also filled up with climate change pledges yesterday. If you can talk to your family, and they’re willing to be inspired by you, then you’ve got this ready-made network that already reaches into every part of island life – use it.
3 Work with Retailers
We talked a bit about plastic bag bans yesterday, and one message that came out is sometimes retailers can act faster and better than government to tackle environmental issues. Guernsey is full of businesses, some homegrown and some international. Some of them are already very conscious of their environmental impact; others much less so.
You can take direct action by refusing to shop in places with a bad environmental track record, and by consciously choosing to support businesses that do well. But sometimes you don’t have a choice – for example, all food retailers use a lot of plastic packaging. And sometimes, your favourite shop might be the one with the massive environmental impact, and it breaks your heart a bit. So: get in touch with them. Ask them if they’ll change what they do. Show that you’ve done your research, and suggest good alternatives. If they do change, then support them as a way of saying thank you – and spread the word!
2 Keep Track of Progress
Keep track of your own progress: if you have run a campaign that has led to a positive change, celebrate it! If things have not gone so well, take the time to ask yourselves why, and learn from it for next time. Pick yourselves up, dust yourselves down and start again.
But more importantly, keep track of Guernsey’s progress. Did you know that there’s a wealth of island data available online at gov.gg/data? This includes statistics reports like Guernsey Facts and Figures and the regular Guernsey Greenhouse Gases Bulletin. It also includes one-off and regular surveys, like the Habitat Survey. And if you can’t find what you want, you can use the Access to Public Information code to request it. Make use of these data – they help to paint a picture of Guernsey’s progress towards (or away from) important climate goals. Read them, share them, build campaigns around them. Keep holding us to account.
1 Stay Positive
Do this in every sense of the word. If your engagement with politicians, with businesses and with the wider community is positive – that is, focused on constructive action we can take to make the world a better place – it will be more effective, and gather more support, than negative complaints that nobody cares and nothing will be done.
But stay positive for yourselves too. Action against climate change is a lifelong endeavour. It takes commitment from every one of us. Don’t feel you have to do everything yourself: you aren’t accountable for other people’s actions, or failure to act – you’re only accountable for doing the best you can in your own way. Rest and self-care are important, too. Share the burden with friends – whether that’s the burden of worry, or the burden of activism, or both. Look after your mental health and your physical health. This campaign needs to be sustainable in every way – sustainable for the planet, that is, but sustainable for all the wonderful humans who care about it, as well. Do what you can, when you can; but take a break and switch off whenever you need to, too. You’ve got this.